Stephen Chandler, ADASS President's speech to the annual National Children and Adult Services Conference (NCASC), 24th November 2021
"Let me begin by playing a really big tribute and say ‘thank you’ to staff working in social care, to the unpaid carers, the volunteers, charities, care providers, council staff, elected members and the many organisations that support people to speak out for everything you have done over the last eighteen months. Without your combined effort and support we just would not have managed.
"It’s so important that we do share this opportunity to get together, even if not in person, because we are on the threshold of what is quite clearly going to be a deeply challenging winter for us all - whether in adult or children’s services, but also on the threshold of radical reform.
"I don’t want to dwell on the negatives just as we open conference, but it would be foolish not to acknowledge the very severe pressures we are all operating under. I have been using the term ‘perfect storm’ in recent weeks and, although that is an overworked term in other contexts, I make no apology for applying it to adult social care right now.
"We’re hearing reports from all around the country of care staff quitting for higher pay, and far less responsibility, in other sectors like retail and hospitality. And we’re hearing of more and more unpaid family carers buckling under the strain of supporting loved ones throughout the Covid emergency.
"Now we are starting to pick up evidence of domiciliary care agencies going out of business, and of others handing back contracts they cannot fulfil simply because they cannot recruit. Where overstretched teams are just managing to keep the show on the road, appointments are being kept - but often only much later than scheduled. People are left waiting to be helped to wash and dress, to eat and drink and to take vital medication.
"We have called on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come up with £1.5bn of emergency funding to stabilise the system this winter and another £1.5bn to provide relief for the most hard-pressed family carers. So far, our calls seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Which is a tragedy, because that £3bn would be less than 1 per cent of what the government has spent in response to the Covid pandemic and yet it would see us safely through the months ahead.
"It’s a tragedy, too, because there is so much to be proud of in adult social care. The contribution of care workers and unpaid carers throughout the pandemic has been nothing short of magnificent. Like all of us, the people we support may not have been able to lead their usual routines, and for many of them that has had adverse effects we must never forget or minimise, but the great majority have stayed safe and well thanks to care workers and carers who have gone that extra mile not just once, but time and time again.
"We at ADASS have called on the government to recognise their remarkable contribution with a £1,000 bonus for care workers and that £1.5bn package for carers, enabling the most exhausted to have some respite. So far, we have not had a response to our call though government knows my number. We all must keep pressing for the care reforms we are promised in the upcoming white papers to include measures to support carers and to put paid care work at last on a professional footing, with decent pay and proper training and career struct
"None of us should let up on this for one minute as long as it continues to be said that you can’t blame people for turning their back on care work when they can earn more stacking supermarket shelves or flipping burgers.
"The pandemic, for all its horrors, has also given us important glimpses of how adult social care may develop in future – how technology will have a vital and growing part to play in providing care, support, and assurance of people’s wellbeing; how communities can wrap themselves around friends and neighbours who may be isolated or at risk; and how the voluntary sector is inescapably going to be a key partner in whatever the care and support model looks like in years to come.
"Above all, the pandemic has shone a light on adult social care that has at last raised public awareness of it and has made it impossible for politicians to continue to evade responsibility for its long-overdue reform.
"No one among the many many viewers who recently watched the two Ed Balls documentaries on care of older people could fail to have been moved by the tenderness and dedication of the care workers and carers portrayed or angered at the deal that society gives them. We must harness those emotions and build on them as we move to put in place meaningful and lasting reforms.
"We must extend the public’s now greater understanding of care for older people to the support we provide for younger adults, which has not so far received the same media attention, and indeed the wider work that adult social services do in respect of social exclusion. That is a responsibility each and every one of us in this virtual room has so lets all collectively shout loud.
"We must make sure, too, that the full contribution of adult social services is understood and given space and voice in the new integrated care systems taking effect across England next April. As the final structural building blocks are put in place over coming weeks, it is imperative that there is regard for a proper balance of care and health interventions in response to need and prevention of that need. There is so much need backed up in the system, in both the NHS and social care, that it will be all too tempting to mould the new systems to respond to that at the expense of prevention.
"It is imperative also that the new ICSs recognise the singular role that local authorities have as community connectors and conveners of place. That has to be baked into the new structures. So much has happened in the past 21 months that it is easy to forget the consequences of the fatal mistake made in the first stages of the pandemic to try to direct everything from the centre. Once local expertise, influence and reach were recognised, we started to get on terms with the crisis. Remember local government is the natural leader of place and DASS’s are a critical resource in that space, we can, we must ensure our roles as leaders really deliver the maximum potential these changes offer. So, the next few months are going to be critical.
"While we’re getting through the winter and shaping the ICS landscape, we also have to close the deal on the right reforms to make adult social care fit for the modern era and a proper pillar of our welfare state, almost 75 years after it was given just a walk-on part in the National Assistance Act. I thank the government and the Prime minister for starting the reform of Adult Social Care (Remember we have been asking for it for decades.
"We are assured that the reforms will represent “a once in a generation transformation”. I know for many including myself the jury is still out on whether the parts of the draft plans we have seen will deliver that or that the funding identified will be enough. Just two per cent – two per cent - of the funding to be raised by the new health and social care levy on national insurance next year will in fact come to social care. Over the course of the next three years, we are told that £5.4bn of a total £36bn will come to social care, but £3.7bn of that is allocated to charging reform and the fair cost of care and £500m has been committed to workforce training, which leaves only £400m a year to deliver those once in a generation transformational reform.
"Quite obviously, friends and colleagues, that is grossly inadequate. We cannot make do and mend any longer.
"Adult social care deserves more - it deserves better. So, continue to work with us to loudly champion not just for reform but also the necessary funding to deliver them.
"Wariness aside though it is our role to play the critical friend across the sector, with civil servants and politicians ensuring we support reform to maximise its potential whilst not being afraid to call out when we see things we believe do not.
"Finally, I do want to end on a positive, I feel and know many of you equally feel energised by the opportunity now in front of us, use these 3 days to recharge, reconnect and reinvigorate yourselves. It’s a fantastic programme of seminars, speeches and events maximise their potential and finally Thank You.